Continuing education

Oy's a rare enough story anywhere, much more so in the developing world: grown tired of her prospect-less life in the provincial town where she was born, she rebelled, dumped her love-home-town-want-to-stay-near-mom boyfriend and moved to the city, managed to get a job which gives her significant control over her work and pays her enough to afford her own place, a car, and a few extras. At thirty she is were some of us find find ourselves about that age: in control of her life, confident and reasonably content. She realizes the rarity of her success, and is proud of her achievement, but also knows that she's not likely to do much better and does not strive to. There is contentment in accepting our limits -- when they are comfortable.

This is one way a young person's life can turn out: crowned with the contentment of early maturity.

I know, because mine did.

I remember well when I reached that point -- I was then around thirty myself. It felt like the final victory in a long struggle. We spend our teens and twenties trying to figure out what kind of life we want to -- and can -- live and what kind of person we can and should be. And when we at last arrive at a juncture at which it seems that we have finally figured it out, we quite suddenly feel unusually comfortable with ourselves. A period of easy contentment ensues; we call it maturity; and we assume that it will stay with us forever.

Yet, life, it turns out, does not stay still. While we kick back in the comfort of our content thirties, all the while our life changes: we change -- we get older, uglier, frailer, we begin to tire easily, our old routines begin to master us -- and bore us; and the world around us changes: our friends become older, their life situation is now different, and the world around us turns relatively younger, people begin to see us in a new light. As a result some things we assumed we knew -- how to dress, smile, apologize; how to seduce a woman, say, or charm a client -- no longer work.

Back when I was thirty, if I got drunk at a party and made a pass at a woman she might have rejected me perhaps, but would have thought the whole incident funny and me a silly prank, at worst; today the possible downside is far worse: if she does not like me, she's liable to be upset and think me a repulsive lecher. Little things may be even more important, because they are with us every day: with only half my former hair left, I no longer look cute -- but -- miserable -- when uncombed... And since my beard has mostly turned white, I can no longer afford to go unshaven every other day and count on sympathy... If I fall asleep with a lover, I must get up before her and shave... or else she'd think she's dating a geriatric...

I can no longer afford to dress in sweat pants and ripped T-shirts because I no longer have the charm of youth which excuses poverty... Poorly dressed at twenty five or even thirty, I was to many an attractive rogue and it was assumed that I was on the make... but poorly dressed today, I am to those who look at me and don't know me, a poor old bastard: I appear to them a pitiful financial failure. And how much of our success -- and contentment! -- depends on how they -- the people who do not know us -- see us!

Thus, it seems, the period of contentment in which we know perfectly how to act in all situations -- the early maturity -- is just that: early; we outgrow it and we must change and learn again. We must learn new lessons -- the lessons of the middle maturity; and above all how to project confidence, dignity, and probity: the virtues expected of people of our age. (And the only way to earn respect).

And how to accept our new limits -- since trying to go beyond them when so obviously it is not possible exposes us to nothing but ridicule.

(Ah, the new limits. These are the hardest, of course).


chris miller said...

And think of how painful these changes must have been for handsome Prince Genji !

Perhaps cutting one's hair and moving to a cabin in the mountains remains the best alternative.

Sir G said...

That's how it is going to end, of course, but I was hoping to throw a few fans more off the Uji bridge...

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